Author's Note: I promised at least one follow-up one-shot to "Absolution" and here it is, finally! This story is technically a "deleted scene" from "Absolution" and it takes place sometime during chapter nineteen, when Gabriel returns to Heaven after informing Max of Jack's death. I do hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Legion.
It was strange trying to say the boy's name, the consonants sounding harsh on his tongue, which had suddenly become ineloquent. Gabriel regretted his tone of voice, which resembled an accusation, a call to the condemned, the doomed, the damned. And Jack had never been damned. Not even when that bullet pierced his skull and he bled out quietly, quickly, on the shoulder of a deserted highway in the Mojave.
Gabriel's heart beat against the name, against the memory of an unrighteous death and a young life cut short. His heart beat and beat, because the boy's would not, because Jack was dead. He was gone.
And yet, it had not been hard to find him.
The archangel stood on the edge of the small forest clearing, watching the child with his mother. It was a strange tableaux. A vision that even he, the Left Hand of God, could not comprehend. It was Paradise as he had never seen it before. It was Jack, eternally happy in the arms of his mother. It was a reunion but also another farewell.
Gabriel looked at the boy. He just looked at him.
It had only been a few hours since he had lowered that same, cold little body into a five-foot deep grave by the tack shed at the old horse ranch. It had only been a few breathless hours ago that he witnessed the final ritual of departure, the wrenching separation of the living from the dead, the last good-bye that was always the worst. Death had acquired a permanency to him, especially when he saw each shovelful of dirt rain down on the body. He had understood loss like he never had before, in a way an angel wasn't meant to. He had learned why humans scorned God and blamed their own Father for their individual misery, for each moment of unjust suffering and pain. And he had understood, in the keenest, most unforgiving way, what it was to die, to have the soul flee from the mortal flesh and into a realm he thought he knew, but was strange to him.
And there was no balm. There was no release or relief. Not even here. Not even now. Not even in Heaven.
Jack was gone. He was still gone.
But the boy's spirit was near. Gabriel, who could hear and feel the souls of men just as readily as he felt the heart beat in his breast, had found Jack again. He had found what remained of the child, the goodness, the beauty, the purity that had managed, against all odds, to soften his world-weary heart.
Michael had led Jack to Paradise, had guided him back to his mother, and now Gabriel watched them both. He saw them sitting in the high grass and was daunted by their laughter, by the joyous chimes of their voices and their smiles, which he could not recognize. Jack had his head on her mother's shoulder and he was still wearing the same parka he had been buried in.
Gabriel dropped his head against the bole of a tree. This reunion was not what he had wanted. His heart wouldn't settle. His mind wouldn't clear. And he felt the tears in his eyes again, because nothing would ever be the same. This was eternity. This was the everlasting. This was the end without end.
"Jack." He spoke the boy's name once more, the sound grating in his throat as he thought of Max, who remained on Earth in her own mortal prison. She would never get to see her nephew like this and perhaps it was for the best, a blessing of ignorance in its own right.
Gabriel wished that he could be ignorant too.
"Jack," he said, wondering if he dared make his presence known. There was too much peace in the moment, too much sanctity in the scene of mother and child for Gabriel to disturb. Somehow, he had become the intruder. The unwanted. Somehow, he had lost the child who had never been his own.
It was the stillness of the air that bothered him the most. Gabriel felt that there should be some disruption. A tempest wind. A soft, murmuring breeze. A breathe of life. Something. Something. His skin was dry with the heat and he could not enjoy the reflected beams of the brazen sun, which were unkind to his eyes. Too sharp. Too severe.
He was in the Garden, the home that had once belonged to men but was now the echo of a wasted dream. The leaves in the trees spoke of lost promises. The streams in the neat riverbeds moved purposelessly. The birds sang, but did not know their own songs, their trills affected and false and stilted sounding to ears that did not care to listen. And Gabriel was not enthralled, he was not taken by the quiet charms of a perfect world.
But perfection was fast becoming a falsehood. Gabriel wondered who Paradise was really for. Not for him, surely. And not for those who still lived.
The shadow of the tree could not contain him and he found himself crossing into the clearing. The high grasses swished around his calves and he ran his fingers over the tips of the blades. The air was green. Thick and full with summer. He wished for a wind to move the trees and shake the leaves. He wished for reality, which now seemed to allude him. He wished for life, not for himself, but for the boy sitting yonder.
Selfish, Gabriel thought, seeing Jack converse happily with his mother. How wretchedly selfish I am.
He moved into the full sunlight, revealing himself to the two contented human souls. "Jack," he said. But even as Gabriel called his name, he saw it, the look of mild confusion on the boy's face. Stranger, it said. You are a stranger.
"Do you know me?" Gabriel asked. He felt awkward in his flesh, a creature with wings and heavy limbs and a low voice that was of stones and antiquity and the old world.
The woman and her son glanced at him. Smiling, they were still smiling, all fear gone, the distrust of their earthly lives replaced with the most innocent curiosity. It was a moment when the soul was at its finest, Gabriel realized. At its truest, most uncorrupted state. It was then that he realized who Paradise belonged to. Them, his mind intoned. The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs…
And not mine.
A barb struck his heart. He put his hand over his chest and sighed into it.
Jack's eyes were a prefect blue in the Garden's sunlight. His hair was swept back from his brow, which remained unmarked.
But Gabriel couldn't help it. He thought of bullets and of blood. He thought of a cold night in a gully, when a trembling young boy had cared enough to help him. He thought of Jack as he was and searched for him, but found only the spirit. And the spirit was different.
"Hey," the boy said, climbing to his feet, his mother's arm falling from his shoulders.
And for an instant, a mere instant, Gabriel thought Jack recognized him. But he didn't. Not really. Not anymore.
"Your wings are awesome," he said, pointing at the angel. "They're huge."
Gabriel glanced quickly over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of the edge of his right wing. Why am I here? he asked himself. Why have I come?
He thought he knew, but the answer was too painful. Not yet. Not yet.
"They must be large to carry my weight," he said. A pause, then. "My name is Gabriel."
The irony of the introduction was painful. It only confirmed what he had always known. Jack didn't remember him. He couldn't remember the angel he had tried to help in that dried-out gully. He didn't remember trying to stitch Gabriel's wounds with his inexpert hands. He didn't remember sharing lunch with him when Max had kept him prisoner in the garage. He didn't remember crying onto Gabriel's shoulder when the angel had told him that his parents were dead. He didn't remember the world he had left, the world that had been so eager to discard him. He didn't remember Max, his aunt, the woman who would have died for him and who now wished herself dead because she had failed.
Inwardly, Gabriel grimaced. Death was a baptism, a rebirth in every sense of the word. The soul left the body with a purpose and it did not look to return. Memories were inconsequential and so was life. Jack didn't remember, because he was not supposed to. His Paradise would not be complete if he knew what was left behind, those who loved him still, those who weren't blessed enough to forget.
And Gabriel, he couldn't forget either.
He pressed his lips together, tasting the salt of dried tears. The boy was looking at him.
"Gabriel," Jack said and even the familiarity of his name spoken was not enough to bridge the loss between them, "you knew my name."
"I-" Gabriel began, but then Jack's mother stood. She was slightly taller than her sister, he noted, but not quite as lanky. Her hair was the same color, blond, and she had a long nose. But the eyes, yes, her eyes were a more definite shade of blue. Gabriel remembered that Max's eyes were grey.
"Hello," she said, dropping on easy hand onto her son's shoulder, her posture casual, hips cocked to the side.
Gabriel recognized her stance at once. It was a position Max often adopted, although the younger sister tended to be more confrontational in her bearing. A small smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
"You must be Laurie," he said.
Mild shock registered on the woman's face, but her expression remained pleasant. Her serenity was truly something of a poet's dream. Soft and deep. Fulfilled. It was humanity at its most beautiful. Gabriel tried to take comfort in that. There was happiness here, even though it was not his.
"Yes, I am," Laurie replied, her surprise tempered by politeness. Her voice was cool, a confident alto. Gabriel found that he admired her gentle dignity. "I've seen a lot of your friends here, but I don't think I've met you in particular yet. Gabriel. Your name is Gabriel?"
He dropped his gaze, feeling uncomfortable. The reason that remained in the back of his mind told him that he was not welcome, that he had been wrong to search for something that could not be found.
Gabriel tried to hold onto what he knew of them. Jack, who was in middle school and had never joined the Boy Scouts and hated his gym teacher. Laurie, who Max had told him was a lawyer. But even as he struggled to remind himself, to remind them of what they were, he felt it all slipping away.
Death. Death was the only thing of permanency in existence. It defied time and other, less defined concepts such as love and loss. And as he stood in that forest clearing in the Garden, stood there with Jack and his mother, he realized that he was alone. Alone.
"It is lost," Gabriel said. He realized that his time on earth with Jack had been just an illusion, a dream that had bloomed and grew amidst a nightmare. But perhaps he was blessed too, because he couldn't forget. The memory was his salvation. It was Jack, as he was, as he always would be. The boy that he had come to love and admire, the child that was wonderful.
Gabriel knew then why he had searched for them and he could embrace his purpose now, could bear it without the crushing pain in his heart. He looked at Jack, standing with his mother's arms over his shoulders. And Eden breathed. Eden lived around them. It was Paradise as it should be, belonging to them and not to him. Gabriel found a smile for them both and he let go. He just let go.
"I wanted to tell you," he said, stepping close to Jack and his beaming mother, "that you are wonderful. And I wanted to tell you good-bye." He bent forward and kissed the top of the boy's head. "Good-bye, Jack."
Jack looked up at him and Gabriel thought that he was going to say good-bye as well, but he didn't. And that, in and of itself, was a gift.
The angel left. He left them to their Paradise and moved out into the world beyond the Garden, where someday, he would find his own.
Author' s Note: Thanks for taking the time to read! Feedback is highly appreciated and always makes me insanely happy. If you have a free moment, please leave me a review. Have a great week!